October 24, 2014

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Planet Gigantic #0 and #1


Planet Gigantic #0 and #1
Story and letters by Eric Grissom
Art and cover by David Halvorson
Action Lab Entertainment

Planet Gigantic is an entertaining new all-ages science fiction series from Action Lab Comics, with a classic 50's sci-fi feel to it. Issue #0 tells the origin story for two of the main characters, and issue #1 contains two stories, "Planetfall" and "Lyana the Seeker."  These are good stories for school-age kids and up, and are engaging, mysterious and fun.

Issue #0 isn't necessary for enjoyment of the series, but provides some helpful background that is alluded to more indirectly in issue #1. The Wunderkind Corporation (great name for a futuristic company) genetically engineers two children, siblings Yuri and Valentina*.  Valentina has the ability to manipulate gravitational fields, and Yuri has power over electromagnetic energy. They're sent into deep space to collect and analyze mineral samples, aided by an android called MOTHER. The story jumps ahead 15 years, where Yuri and Valentina are doing analysis outside their ship when them come under attack from space spiders(!).  Using their skill and abilities, they're able to return to their ship, but it's heavily damaged in the attack.  They're going to have to set down...on a GIGANTIC PLANET.

The "Planetfall" story in Issue #1 picks up immediately thereafter. It begins with a beautiful, pastoral scene, the tranquility of which is disrupted with falling space debris (the Wunderkind ship). Yuri and Valentina survive the landing, but MOTHER does not (however they're able to save what appears to be her CPU). The siblings begin wandering towards a castle in the distance, only to find a rock monster battling a group of what appear to be soldiers. The twins intervene to subdue the monster, and are greeted by Queen Neva of Woodmere (the realm in which they've landed, and one of the realms of Planet Gigantic). Rather than thank them, she takes them prisoner, and after a brief struggle they are subdued.

"Lyana the Seeker" introduces, well, Lyana the Seeker, one of the Seekers who serve Queen Ina, ruler of the skies. She is the greatest of the Seekers, brilliant acrobats for whom nothing is impossible. She's on a mission (flying on her winged lion Syd) to retrieve an ancient artifact known as the Eye of the Sun. She makes her way into the tomb of Zon the Betrayer (essentially a floating skeleton that has formed islands around it over time). Using her intelligence and skill, Lyana enters the tomb inside Zon's skull (whoever he or she was). There she discovers something surprising, but eventually (by using both her skills and compassion), she gets the artifact she was seeking.

There's a lot to enjoy in the first few issues of this series. What's clear at the outset is that the creative team is setting this up to be a big (or, GIGANTIC) anthology series where they can tell many different stories, which might intersect at some point. As it's been introduced, there are seven realms on Planet Gigantic, and we've only seen two of them. So, there's potential to expand the series and do a lot of world building.

The art here is bright, dynamic and engaging.  Many of the elements of the series, from the cover to issue #1 to the design of Yuri and Valentina's space-suits, is evocative of classic 1950's science fiction magazines, but with a modern twist (like digital readouts inside their helmets).  Halvorson has an attractive, painted watercolor style here with big, vivid colors well-suited for the subject matter.  Explosions (of which there are a lot, particularly in "Planetfall") are rendered with jarringly bright colors, and some excellent sound effects lettering from Grissom.  Halvorson's lines are dynamic and rough, as in certain places (such as when debris streaks down from the heavens), he goes outside the panel lines. This works nicely to show how disruptive and destructive the falling debris is, compared to the peaceful scene before.

The human (or humanoid) characters are rendered in an exaggerated, angular, cartoon style. In farther-away shots, the character's features are rendered with only small details, but still very expressively (it reminds me a little of Calvin & Hobbes meets Darwyn Cooke, at least in the expressive facial acting). The action and fight sequences in this story are drawn in a big- exciting way. Valentina and Yuri's powers are rendered nicely in those sequences, as her gravitational powers are given a circular effect, and his electromagnetic powers are visualized with something more like a Kirby crackle.  In "Lyana the Seeker," Lyana spends a lot of time in flight, and Halvorson does a great job of portraying the openness and sense of movement in those scenes.

These are compelling stories, particularly the tale of Yuri and Valentina. The siblings only have each other, they're stranded on an alien world, and their first encounter with the locals hasn't gone so well. They've got their special abilities, but it's clear the planet possesses significant threats as well. We don't know so much about their individual personalities, but from the #0 issue it seems like Yuri has been getting bored with their stated mission of collecting and analyzing mineral samples (and really, can you blame him?) but Valentina wants them to stay focused on the mission and is a little more cautious.  Thus far, the story has demonstrated that when they work together, they're very powerful and difficult to stop. I assume that as the story goes along we'll see more of their distinct personalities beyond Yuri being the fun and daring one. The story has already shown that Yuri very much needs Valentina as much as she needs him.  Lyana is also a compelling character that kids should instantly like and relate to. Apart from the fact that she rides a flying (and talking) lion, she's brave, clever and resourceful.

I'm often on the lookout for comics that I can read with my kids, looking for both for appropriateness of subject matter, and even more importantly, something they'll find interesting enough to read. I'm happy to say that Planet Gigantic succeeds on all those counts.  There's enough drama, humor, action and danger to engage bigger kids, but not so much as to scare away the littler ones. You'll enjoy it too.

* Nice nods to Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, Soviet space pioneers.